Take control of your personal brand and identity

What’s your brand? No, I don’t mean your company’s brand. What’s your brand?

Much of what’s written these days about insurance and social media focuses on social media use at the corporate level. A great deal of the discussion is about bringing large company brands into the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets.

[Photo by Sreejith K via Flicker]

If you have only devoted your time to bringing your company’s brand online, you may be missing one of the greatest opportunities afforded by the Web 2.0 era. Never before has the cost of marketing anything, including your personal brand been so close to zero.

I believe that one of the reasons we’re seeing the pace of innovation and change increase is that the financial cost of failure is becoming negligible. For example, starting a blog to broadcast your ideas costs nothing. If any of those ideas connect, they pay off. If not, you move on.

Money is no longer the primary medium of investment

The Web 2.0 era has marginalized the monetary cost of doing many things. Today, the currency of investment is time and privacy. Success with social media is not possible without some investment of your own personal time. And you cannot really participate in social media without revealing things about yourself, personality, and ambitions.

Yes, our personal privacy is quickly slipping away. This is just a reality of the era we’ve entered. For many, it’s disconcerting. If you feel that the best way to protect your privacy is to avoid social media entirely, it’s important to understand that you are and will be talked about in some way whether you participate or not.

If you’re not actively building your identity and establishing a presence online, you’re letting search engines cobble together information, good or bad, and write your public story. You need to establish and maintain a healthy online identity. –Lifehacker.com

Who would you rather invest your privacy: you or someone else? Or some search engine algorithm?

Many details of your personal and professional life are likely already online in one form or another. Perhaps your friends have posted photos of you on Facebook or Flickr. Or perhaps you’re in a video on YouTube. Or maybe there’s an entirely false portrayal of you online because you have the same name as someone else–someone whose behavior isn’t doing you any favors.

The bottom line is this: If you take a proactive posture in building your online brand, you control what is said about you; if you don’t, others will say it for you.

Online profiles are becoming a necessity for job candidates

Having your own, personally-developed, unique brand will increase your chances of finding a new position in the event you lose your current job. Or more optimistically, it can be a bridge to bigger and better things. If you aren’t on LinkedIn and all you have in hand is a traditional paper resumé, you’re at a tremendous disadvantage to your competition. And when I say tremendous, I mean tremendous.

I don’t care how qualified you really are, employers are going to favor candidates that they know more about. Suppose two people are interviewing for a position. One candidate has an active LinkedIn profile with connections, recommendations, and a history of participating in group discussions, while the other only has a paper résumé and cover letter. Who do you think has the edge? Credibility is very difficult to fake on a site like LinkedIn. Faking credibility on a résumé or a one-day interview? That happens all the time.

Establishing an online brand is not nearly as difficult as it may sound. And I’m using the word “brand” very generally here. You don’t necessarily have to sell things; at a minimum, you’re simply establishing a truth about who you are as an individual.

With very little effort, you can create your own unique identity simply by signing up for LinkedIn and connecting with current and past colleagues. From there, it’s up to you. But I also recommend having a Twitter account−even if you don’t want to use it right away. Like LinkedIn, Twitter costs nothing to set up and maintain. So why not go ahead and grab a handle that suits you? That way, it’s yours.

As you establish and maintain your online identity, you’ll reap other indirect benefits. You will find other people with similar interests. People will contact you. Relationships will form that can lead to all kinds of possibilities. You’ll learn from others whose interests are aligned with yours.

Change necessitates change

For some, social media represents unwelcome change. But it’s important to remember that in trying to protect yourself from the perceived risks of the open web, you may be doing more harm than good. So establish your brand now, and take control. You should be the author of your own story.

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